Following Deer

“to the seeds,
to the beginnings; to one clear word for which
there is no disguise and no alternative.”
~Brackenbury

I have grown accustomed to mourning and rejoicing in tandem. It seems throughout my life some of the most profoundly joyful moments, good news, and inconspicuous but thrilling arrivals have found their way to me in the footsteps of sadness, change, and difficult times. If there is a lesson in this trend, I am still learning, growing with every new turn and opportunity to respond and adapt.

Just as I was accepting a job offer and entirely new course in life – including a major residential move – a friend lapsed into serious condition, then left this old, dusty world just a day beyond my acceptance of this new path. I was watching deer move delicately across a green meadow, the new morning sweet and endless, as my friend struggled for breath and held the hands of friends and family too numerous to name. Just as I stumbled up a mountain path, where a small doe stood sniffing the air, my family – back in Indiana – dealt with struggles of their own, how to honor an aging loved one’s wishes while serious health issues pressed against good conscience. And all the while my own conflicts provided sullen backdrops against the abundant beauty around me.

 Is it right to be happy when others are not?

How do we fully live while grieving for those who are dying or have gone on?

I grapple with my need to move quickly in the midst of so much emotion. By nature, I am a mover. To remain still, coming from my history and character, welcomes potential peril. I move on, even when my heart is broken and everyone around me lingers, catatonic in hurt. I move with the clouds. I say goodbye as the wind pushes memory and time over ridges, against the horizon. I carry stories. I speak them, and speak through them. I move, too, in the gray space, as everyone naturally moves away from our grasp. Friends, lovers and family circle the wheel, just as I. 

There’s ache in my heart for the many losses faced over the years, for the pains and sicknesses that have plagued those I love, and for the reality that, yes, our limited, linear life becomes ever more apparent as loved ones fly off into hereafter. Childhood, for those fortunate enough to be awarded this innocent time, is short. For many, childhood is merely a time to fight for survival. Fair or unfair, the wheel turns. We mourn. We move on.

As I reflect upon my time in Colorado and the deer that greeted me on my morning walks, I am reminded of a moment of holiness and complexity in my twenties. Holy is a word I choose intentionally. I was facing a devastating loss, dealing with the inevitable end to an ugly situation. I was very alone – not in the physical sense – but the dejected sense of being alone, when surrounded by people who could not or would not understand or acknowledge who I am or the obvious circumstances around us. I was about to walk into a hotel, when I saw a couple of young does rush across the busy county road. The first made it in a daring leap between automobiles. The second was not so lucky. Just as she made it into the first lane, a truck hit her hind legs… and without the slightest pause, continued to drive away. The doe stumbled twice but managed to cross into the National Forest land just beyond.

Without thinking, I left my stunned companion and darted across the road and scrambled under the barbed wire fence. Looking back, my companion simply walked into the hotel and closed the door – a final impasse. I keenly remember an urge to find the doe. I knew she must be in bad shape, if even alive, and I couldn’t stop my legs from moving into the thick green tangle of late summer foliage. I must have walked for an hour before reluctantly turning around to head back. That’s when I saw her. She was on her side, just beyond a thick stand of trees, lying on ferns. I neared and met her eyes. I could tell she was dying. I leaned down and placed a hand on her side as she took her last few breaths.

There was something in the acknowledgment of that final moment of life that was comforting. Sad, yes, but… the truth of being fully there, present and with this transition, soothed my mind. And, something tells me my being there soothed her also.

It is what it is…

Deer vision is unlike our own. They see in the context of movement. What doesn’t move isn’t there or isn’t framed in their visual landscape. Every movement is new. Every motion is a beginning. There’s no need to worry about things that are not felt and perceived. Life and death happen at the most basic visceral level of movement in moment.

From the accounts of my friend’s last moments on earth, he was surrounded by dozens of friends and family. My own family struggles with tough decisions, but they are together – witnessing, acknowledging each other’s feelings. Grief and sadness stand near our moments of happiness – inches away, at times. But these are all feelings that come and go, enter and leave. What remains are those moments of simply seeing each other – real in the music of being real – moving delicately off into fields, through the landscapes of dying and being born. We comfort and celebrate by being witness to the movement of each other – and again, by moving into those new spring meadows.

Recognition

Each morning I am greeted by a family of cactus wrens that have taken up residence in the cholla near one of my garden beds. The fledglings have a particular interest in the herb bed because the drip line provides a sort of sprinkler system. I can imagine their delight on a day of intense heat to have the chance to cool off under the basil, where steady drops of water splash down. This particular side of the house is what I refer to as the Zen Garden as it is one of the few truly shady places in the xeriscaped yard. It’s common to find the neighborhood cats here, lounging on one of my recently planted beds of beets and greens (ahem!), also enjoying the fledglings. I suspect with a nefarious agenda in mind.

Spending time outside in the city affords few opportunities to catch sight of some of the larger wildlife I was used to seeing back East. I remember, while working for a nonprofit in Toronto, a part of the summer morning chores, just before unlocking the office, was to grab an old ladder and walk back to the parking lot, where masked rascals awaited rescuing. Our neighbor, a sports bar, used open garbage bins that invited nearly every raccoon in the nearby ravine for a tasty, free meal. Unfortunately, getting into the bin was a heck of a lot easier than getting out. And, during the summer months, when temps reached into the high 90s, this was a dangerous place to be stuck. Inevitably, upon making my way to the bins, there would be a few young raccoons waiting for me, paws upward, ready to cling to the lower rung, climb, plop, and scamper back to their ravine home.

Other occasions would allow me to come uncomfortably close to skunks, rats and the usual park-dwelling coyotes. (Oddly, I saw more coyotes while living in Toronto than I have in the desert.)

Since moving to Phoenix, my senses have had to become honed to tune in to less obvious species and the stories they have to share– the funny daredevils, the Gila woodpeckers, and how they enjoy a sip from the hummingbird feeders, despite the awkwardness of perching. The pugilistic thrashers and how they hop from self-designed hole to self-designed hole, looking for tasty bugs. The bats that seem less ominous against the desert skyline than in the crevices of bridges. Even the lizards that used to startle me have made their way into my morning observation and have me questioning whether I need to get rid of all the dreaded Bermuda grass, which provides them with shade and protection.

These companions of mine, whose lives are shorter and perhaps more precarious in comparison, are full of being. I am unsure if I need to worry about what life, theirs or mine, means as much as witnessing it each morning, honestly and without judgment. With a pure heart, they go about their day; I go about mine.